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Recipe for Resilience
By Jessica Lahner
Picture this: Your child brings home a report card full of good grades. What do you say? If you’re like many parents, you would respond with, “Look at those grades!” or “You’re so smart!”
What if I said those responses are fine, but “You worked hard for those grades!” or “You earned those grades, good work!” are even better?
We used to believe that intellect was the key to success. But now we understand that resiliency, or the ability to persevere despite setbacks, is one of the strongest predictors of long-term success. In fact, resilient children are:
• More likely to obtain fulfilling careers, and
• Happier in adulthood
What is Resilience?
When your preschooler is struggling with a puzzle but keeps trying anyway – that’s resilience. When your baseball player doesn’t make the select team, then works hard all year and tries again – that’s resilience. Think of it as “grit.” It’s that thing that allows us to pick ourselves up and keep going despite failure or obstacles.
Some of us are born with more grit than others. That preschooler on the playground who seems to make friends naturally and takes disappointment in stride – grit is probably in her DNA.
Research suggests that kids born with grit posses a combination of confidence, optimism, perseverance and critical thinking skills. The good news is that resilience, and all the characteristics that come with it, can be taught.
Recipe for Resilience
Build Strong Attachments
Resilient children have consistent and healthy relationships with adults. Parents start developing strong attachments from day one by consistently responding to their baby’s needs.
By picking them up when they cry, for example, we teach them that the world is a safe place to explore and take healthy risks. It’s this unconditional love that gives your child the courage and confidence to try and try again when things don’t go her way.
Find times when your child persists and praise that effort. When your 4-year old is learning to ride a 2-wheeler, offer reinforcement like “Learning to ride a bike is tough. I love how you keep trying even when you fall down!”
These comments highlight the process, not the outcome. Over time, your child will internalize that hard work really does pay off.
Highlight Meaningful Effort
Ability matters. But, when it comes to raising resilient kids, effort matters more. Comments like “You are so smart!” offer person praise – emphasizing the child’s inherent characteristics verses the effort he put into the product. Habitually offering process praise like, “You worked so hard on that,” or “I know working through the hard parts was frustrating, but you did it!” encourages meaningful effort and instills self-esteem.
Process praise helps children develop a growth mindset – the belief that working harder can make them stronger and smarter. Alternatively, children with a fixed mindset believe that people are either smart or they aren’t; they don’t associate effort with achievement.
In fact, researchers studied the amount of process praise parents offered their toddlers. Five years later, toddlers who heard more process praise were more likely to:
• Choose challenging versus easy tasks,
• Persist when things got tough, and
• Believe that they could become smarter with hard work1
The inventor of Dyson created more than 200 prototypes before inventing a successful model. Successful people agree: Failure is necessary for growth. Sharing your own stories of failure helps kids view setbacks as something everyone experiences, even the people they respect most.
Reframe mistakes as opportunities. When your son doesn’t get that part in the school play, empathize with his disappointment then help him devise a plan for moving forward.
Instead of saying, “It’s okay, you tried your best” (even though that’s true), try, “We don’t always reach our goal the first time. I’m wondering what you learned from this disappointment? What can you do next time to get the result you want?”
Warning: Raising resilient kids with a growth mindset comes with challenges. Take my 5-year old son who was building a bike ramp. I nervously watched as he experimented with different materials to get just the right incline. While part of me wanted to jump in and help or tell him the effort was just too dangerous (while it had risk, his helmet and knee pads would cushion his fall), I knew that he was building resilience in my backyard. And this resilience would help build a confident man who isn’t crushed by failure and works harder when the going gets tough.
1 Elizabeth A. Gunderson, Sarah J. Gripshover, Carissa Romero, Carol S. Dweck, Susan Goldin-Meadow, Susan C. Levine. Parent Praise to 1- to 3-Year-Olds Predicts Children's Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later. Child Development, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12064
Jessica Lahner, Ph.D. serves as the Child Development Expert for Fox6 News Real Milwaukee and is on the faculty of the psychology program at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. With a doctorate in counseling psychology, she looks at parenting and play from both a child development and mental health perspective. She has published peer-reviewed articles on development in the Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, and the International Journal of Adult Development and Aging. When she’s not teaching or writing, you can find her and her husband elbow deep in finger paint or cheering on one of her four young children at the baseball or soccer fields. - See more at: